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At Bridgehampton: Incumbent Berhalter Ousted by Newcomers

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web_Bridgehampton School Board Elections '10_6562

By Kathryn G. Menu

The voters of the Bridgehampton Union Free School District overwhelmingly approved its budget and several propositions on the ballot Tuesday night, also choosing to support newcomers Jo Ann Comfort and Lawrence LaPointe over incumbent Joe Berhalter in the race for two seats on the school’s board of education.

Comfort led all three candidates in the race, earning 148 votes with LaPointe following with 139 votes. Berhalter, who during his three-year tenure on the board sought to close the Bridgehampton’s high school and send students to neighboring school districts, earned 91 votes.

“It feels really good,” said a jubilant LaPointe afterwards. “For me, the focus was deciding to run in the first place. After that, if I won, if I lost – I considered both a victory because I decided to run and went through the process.”

“I am really happy,” he added. “It gives me a lot more confidence going on the board. But I am glad this is over.”

Comfort, who voted with her husband and five-year-old daughter in tow earlier in the evening, was equally thrilled with the outcome.

 “I did other things today, but I also talked to a lot of people,” she said. “I tried to get out the vote.”

Berhalter, who was the only candidate not at the closing of the budget vote, was not immediately available for comment.

“I am looking forward to working with Jo Ann and Lawrence,” said Bridgehampton School Board President Elizabeth Kotz. “I appreciate Joe Berhalter’s time and hope he remains involved with the school.”

For Kotz, Tuesday night’s results showed a clear mandate supporting not only the Bridgehampton School but also several projects it hopes to accomplish in coming years.

The budget – a $9,951,049 spending plan for the 2010-2011 school year – was approved with 217 votes in favor, with 61 against. It represents the second tax rate decrease Bridgehampton has presented its voters in the last two years.

Voters also overwhelming approved $125,000 for the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreation Center’s annual contract with the school district with 203 residents voting in favor and 68 voting against the contract.

An issue discussed within the school district for three years – improvements to the historic school house including window replacement, the installation of a protective exterior insulation finish system and masonry improvements to the exterior of the historic school building, the replacement of exterior cladding and trim on the kindergarten bay windows, and upgrades for code compliance, also received support with 190 residents voting to fund the improvements and 83 voting against the measure. The cost is budgeted not to exceed $1,350,000 and would have no impact on this year’s tax rate, but would be bonded for over several years.

A transportation proposition also passed, allowing the school to continue its current busing program for residents at a cost of $62,000 annually. Two-hundred-and-twelve residents supported the initiative, with 58 voting against the proposition.

Lastly, the school was given permission by residents to accept $45,505 in reimbursement from the State of New York’s Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning (EXCEL) aid program with 225 residents supporting the proposition and 40 voting against it.

“While the turnout was low, we got a solid, solid endorsement of our budget and our propositions,” said Kotz.